Sidor som bilder
PDF
ePub

Notwithstanding the misfortunes of Ponce de Leon, the passion of adventurers for undiscovered wealth was not yet repressed; and Pamphilo de Narvaez, in 1526, sought and obtained from Charles V., an appointment “ to the conquest of Florida ;' a strange commission, though not without its parallel in history. He was a man “ of no great virtue or re. putation;" and had been sent a short time before, by the zealous governor of Cuba, to take Cortez prisoner. After declaring him an outlaw, and threatening him with vengeance, he was deserted by his followers, and after losing an eye in the affray, he was himself defeated and taken prisoner. Being brought before the man he had promised to arrest, he said to his conqueror : “ Esteem it, sir, great good fortune that you have taken me captive.” Cortez replied, and truly : “It is the least of the things I have done in Mexico."

The expedition of Narvaez was equally adventurous with his attempt upon Cortez, and more disastrous. Of three hundred followers who em. barked in the expedition, four or five only returned. The place where they landed is somewhat uncertain; the party, however, we are credibly informed, struck into the interior, following the direction of natives anxious to get rid of unwelcome visitors; who led them, with great address, to a country far remote, filled as was said with gold, where dreams of ava. rice, however rapacious, were sure to be realized. Pursuing a phantom for about six months, and marching a distance of eight hundred miles, they arrived, by a circuitous route, in great penury upon the coast, in -the bay of Pensacola, whence they embarked for Cuba, in boats speedily constructed, wherein no other than desperate men would have adventured. Some perished in a storm near the mouth of the Mississippi, among whom was their commander. Some survived shipwreck to die by famine, and four reached Mexico by land, after suffering extreme hardships-persist. ing, to the last, that Florida was the richest country on the globe.

The assertion was believed, even by the conquerors of Mexico and Peru; and Ferdinand de Soto sought to rival Pizarro in wealth, and Cortez in glory. He was a native of Xeres, and by military service had acquired both fame and fortune. He had accompanied Pizarro and his mercenary hordes in the conquest of Peru, and on divers occasions had surpassed them all in bravery. He had assisted his commander to arrest the Inca Atahualpa, and shared profusely in his ransom. (See note.) Perceiving an alarming jealousy in the camp of Pizarro, he seasonably withdrew, with his share of its spoils, and repaired to Spain to display his wealth and solicit advancement. He had married the daughter of a distinguished nobleman, in whose suit he had served, and with great confidence now sought from his sovereign the conquest of Florida. Success of every kind at first awaited him, and Charles V. granted with great readiness, to a commander so renowned, the government of Cuba, with absolute power to conquer at his own cost, for the Spanish crown, the adjacent territory.

His intentions were no sooner announced, than adventurers of noble birth and ample fortunes, Alocked in great numbers to his standard. Houses and lands, olive-trees and vineyards, (as in the days of the Crusades,) were sold to defray expenses ; and out of the numerous aspirants for wealth and fame, De Soto selected for his companions six hundred Spaniards in the bloom of life, the flower of Castilian chivalry, leaving a considerable number still behind. .

In May, 1539, he embarked, full of expectation, from Cuba, and in about two weeks anchored in the bay of Spiritu Santo. He disembarked his troops without delay, and like Cortez, dismissed his ships, lest they should afford temptation to return. .

He commenced his march with a force, exceeding in numbers and equipments, the famous expeditions against Mexico and Peru. Every. thing that wealth, experience, and cruelty, could suggest, was at his command. “Chains for captives”-“the instruments of a forge”_"arms of every kind, and bloodhounds as auxiliaries "_" stores of provisions”and, as a last resort, a drove of hogs ; which, in a clime like this, where the forests bent with perennial fruits, and Indian-corn abounded,” would shortly swarm and furnish food in case of necessity. It was in fact an expedition of gallant freebooters in quest of fortune, through regions unexplored and paths unknown. A desperate spirit of gambling pervaded every corps. Twelve priests accompanied the expedition ; avarice and zeal were strangely intermixed, and Florida was apparently to be Catholic, amid scenes of robbery and carnage. .'.

The first season brought them to the country of the Appalachians. Their march thither was tedious, and full of danger; the Indians were hostile, and designedly misled them, even when death under the fangs of bloodhounds, was in prospect before them. The troops became dispirited and longed to return; their commander, however, was inflexible.

In the spring of 1540, De Soto renewed his march. An Indian guide promised to lead him to a distant country, governed by a woman, where gold, it was said, abounded ; (supposed to be the golden regions of North Carolina.) The adventurers immediately changed their course, passed the Altamaha,viewed with delight the fertile valleys of Georgia, came upon the Oguchee, and passed the head waters of the Savannah through the Cherokee country to the Coosa. The natives were poor, but gentle ; they interposed no obstacles to their march, gave them of their scanty stores whatever they could spare, and for some time cheerfully bore their burdens. An exploring party sent to the north, appalled by the vast chain of mountains which met their view, (the Appalachian chain,) pronounced them impassable. They had toiled with great eagerness for silver and gold, and hunger, nakedness, and penury, were still before them. In October, 1540, they reached a considerable town on the Alabama, above the junction of the Tombickbee, at some distance from Pensacola. The village was called Mavilla, or Mobile, a name which it still retains. The Spaniards, worn out by incessant hardships, and tired of encamping

in forests, here sought to occupy its cabins. The natives, indignant, rose on their invaders--a battle ensued: the town was set on fire, and two thousand five hundred Indians were slain. “Of the Christians, eighteen died,” and the whole Spanish baggage was consumed. Though ships from Cuba had arrived at Pensacola, De Soto, too proud to confess his failure, and too stubborn to acknowledge himself defeated, resolved, like Cortez, to send no intelligence home till he had accomplished something worthy of his fame. He therefore directed his march to the north, his troops being reduced by sickness and warfare to five hundred men, and took up his quarters for the winter in the upper part of the present State of Mississippi, in the country of the Chickasaws. When the spring opened, in 1541, he demanded of the natives two hundred men to carry his burdens. The Chickasaws, enraged that strangers and enemies should occupy their homes like the inhabitants of Moscow, when the legions of Napoleon sought refuge from a Russian winter within the walls, set fire to their own dwellings at midnight, in which the Castilians were encamped, and almost every cabin was immediately consumed. The savage war-whoop, mingling with the flames for the first time in North America, rung through the air, and had the Indians conducted with skill and bravery, they would have exterminated their proud invaders. But, like other barbarians who had met the Spaniards in battle, they trembled at their own success, and feared the unequal contest. Horses which had broken loose, were mistaken by them for hostile squadrons; and although eleven Christians lost their lives in the tumult, and De Soto's weapons and bag. gage were all consumed, delay was suffered to intervene, and when the Spanish camp was afterward attacked, the Christians were found prepared.

The misfortunes which De Soto had hitherto encountered, seemed only to confirm his obstinacy; and instead of returning as a fugitive to the country from whence he came, he resolved on finding, at all hazards, a wealthier region; and for several successive days struggled through forests and marshes, directed by the natives, till he came to an Indian settle. ment on the banks of the Mississippi. He was the first European who had beheld that magnificent river, rolling its mighty flood through an allu. vial soil to the ocean, bearing then, as now, whole trees upon its surface. Although three centuries have since elapsed, its character has not changed. It was then described, “as more than a mile broad; flowing with a strong current, and forcing a channel of great depth by the weight of its waters."

The arrival of so many strangers, awakened at first curiosity among - the natives, and afterward excited fear. A multitude of people, of all ages and conditions, painted in gorgeous style, and decorated with plumes and feathers, with bows and arrows in their hands, their chiefs sitting under awnings magnificent as barbarians could weave, came rowing down the stream in a fleet of two hundred canoes, and brought gifts of fish to their invaders. They showed at first some signs of resistance; but con.

scious of their weakness, they ceased shortly to defy an enemy whose power was irresistible, and suffered injury without retaliation. The boats of the natives were too weak to transport horses, and barges were therefore constructed for crossing the river. . A month nearly elapsed before their preparations were all completed, and the Europeans borne in tri. umph across the stream.

In ascending the west bank of the Mississippi, the Spaniards were obliged to wade through deep, and almost impenetrable morasses, till they came to the elevated grounds which extend in the direction of NewMadrid, and here the religion of the invaders and the natives first came in contact. The former were adored as children of the Sun, and the halt, the lame, and the blind, were brought into their presence, in order to be healed.

De Soto, in reply to their frequent entreaties, told them to “pray to God who is in Heaven, for whatever they needed.” It would seem, then, that the sublime doctrines of Christianity promulgated centuries before in India, were now brought for the first time to the untutored savages of North America, by a military adventurer.

In July, 1541, De Soto marched as far north as Pacaha, in Arkansas, where he remained about forty days. An exploring party, sent northerly from there, reported, on their return, that the country in that direction was thinly inhabited ; that buffaloes were so numerous that maize could not be cultivated, and that the regions still farther north, (on the Mis. souri,) were nearly a desert. He turned, therefore, his course to the west and southwest, and ascended as far up as the highlands of White River, about two hundred miles from the Mississippi, · which termi. nated his ramble in that direction. The mountains in the vicinity affording neither gems nor gold, the disappointed adventurers thereupon turned to the south, and explored the tributaries of the Washita, where they found whole tribes of Indians, advanced to some extent in civilization ; having fixed places of abode, and subsisting on the produce of their fields, instead of the chase. Peaceable and inoffensive, the Spaniards treated them with great severity, sometimes employing them as porters and sometimes as guides; and on slight suspicion, cutting off their hands for punishment or intimidation ; sometimes throwing them to their bloodhounds, and sometimes into the flames. Any trilling consideration of safety induced De Soto to set fire to their hamlets, not because he delighted in cruelty, but because the happiness, the life, and the rights of the natives, were of no account. The approach of the Spaniards was of course heard with dismay, and their departure hastened, as before, by the suggestion of wealthier lands at a distance.

In March, 1542, he descended the Washita to its junction with the Red River, and from thence to the Mississippi. He there inquired of a chief, by the name of Guachoya, the direction and distance to the sea, and received for answer, that the lower banks of the Mississippi were a wild, uncultivated waste. Unwilling to believe so disheartening a tale, he sent

forward eight horsemen to explore the country, who, after wandering about for several days among frequent bayous, impassable cane-brakes, and impenetrable forests, returned and filled the Spanish camp with gloom. His followers and horses were at this time wasting rapidly away, and the natives were becoming dangerous. Driven to his last and almost only resource, De Soto attempted for the first time to overawe a savage tribe near Natchez, by claiming a supernatural birth, and demanded from them obedience and tribute. Its undaunted chief, instead of complying with his demands, invited him to their camp, and told him, “ If he came in peace, he would receive him in friendship; if in war, he would not shrink one foot from his presence.” De So:o, unable longer to punish temerity in the natives, sunk under the weight of conflicting emotions. His health failed him, and his stubborn pride was changed into wasting melancholy. A malignant fever in the meantime set in, during which he received but little comfort, and less attention than his last hours required. Supposing his death to be near, he held the last solemn interview with his companions, and yielding to their wishes, named a successor. On the 21st of May, 1542, he expired in their arms; not, however, “ unhonored or unmourned.” His affectionate soldiers pronounced his eulogy ; the priests that accompanied the expedition chanted over his body the first requiems that were heard in the “ Far West,” and to conceal his death, his remains were wrapped in a mantle, to which a large stone was appended, and sunk at midnight in the stream. · Thus perished Fernando De Soto; the Governor of Cuba, the associate of Pizarro, and the friend and companion of princes. He had sought gold-obtained renown—and found a grave. The discoverer of the Mississippi now slept, like Attila, beneath its waters.

“ Such honors Ilion to her hero paid,

And peaceful slept the mighty Hector's shade."

Moscoso, on whom the mantle of the late governor had fallen, suc. ceeded De Soto in command; and the invaders, urged on by the energy of their commander, no more resolved to return. Having New Spain in view, the question at once arose, should they seek it by descending the river, or by crossing the interminable forests that lay between. The latter, as less dangerous, was adopted, and the adventurers, actuated by the hopes which many yet cherished, that some splendid city or empire would finally reward their toils, again penetrated the wilderness. In July they found themselves in the country of the Natchitoches; came upon the Red River soon afterward, when swollen by floods so as to be impassable; wandered up and down the woods under Indian guides, who designedly misled them ; reached the hunting-grounds of the Pawnees and Comanches on the confines of Mexico--got discouraged, and resolved to return. They at length reached the Mississippi above the mouth of the Red River; erected there a forge; collected what scraps of iron they could find in

« FöregåendeFortsätt »